Indiana Fabric Solutions’ partnership philosophy is helping both the company and the community grow.
By Holly Eamon
Business is booming at Indiana Fabric Solutions, in part because of the owners’ focus on fostering connections within the workforce and the community. Connections, community and communication are key factors in the company’s recent expansion. Four years ago, Patty and Angie McCullough risked a new professional venture when they took over the industrial sewing portion of their husbands’ manufacturing business, Innovative Fabricators Inc., in Bedford, Ind. To decrease both the costs and time restraints of outsourcing, the new owners purchased sewing equipment and began making the packaging for the shipping and in-house containers the business constructs for the automotive industry. The success of the new service pointed to strong growth potential as a separate entity—and Patty and Angie were up to the challenge of exploring its possibilities.
Today, a new 25,000-square-foot facility is evidence of the McCulloughs’ ability not only to sustain that growth but to surpass expectations. “It feels like the sky is the limit,” Angie says. The facility houses new equipment, offices and storage for the company, a certified women-owned producer of customized, reusable sewn fabric packaging products. Two new machines will allow the addition of thermoformed plastics and laser-fabricated metal sheet components to the product and service offerings. A waterjet relocated to the new building will reduce lead time and transportation costs.
The sewing division remains in the original 12,000-square-foot building, leaving extra space in the new facility for future equipment purchases. “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into at first, but it’s been really exciting to be a part of this,” Angie says.
Customers served are still primarily in the automotive industry, but the new facility will help the company expand into different industries. The Department of Defense (DoD) presents one such opportunity—and a close one at that. Angie and Patty have established connections at the Naval Surface Warfare Center Crane Division, a military base just miles away. “We are dotting all the I’s and crossing all the T’s that are required to participate in this industry,” Angie says.
But they’re not stopping there. “This feels like just the tip of the iceberg. We are keeping our eyes and ears open to several other opportunities,” she adds, noting that their women-owned certification may become a contributing factor to their continued success. “It’s not just an accomplishment we’re proud of; it also gives us a bit of a notch up with companies looking to work with minority-owned businesses.”
Bright as their future may be, Angie and Patty are careful not to be blinded by the appeal of prosperity. “We want to remain cautious about biting off more than we can chew and spreading ourselves too thin,” Angie notes. “While we hate to turn work away, we have to continue to provide high-quality products that we can stand by.”
The McCulloughs’ realistic perspective and honest communication style are qualities that current customers appreciate and that they plan to bring into any new business relationship. “Being truthful up front about what we can and cannot do is important,” Angie says.
Moving forward, they’re working to find the right balance between purchase order and contract work. “We feel this will keep our employees working,” Angie adds. “Our automotive work falls in line with the cyclical nature of that industry, which utilizes purchase orders, while DoD work uses contracts.”
Forecasting is another challenge. According to Angie, “The companies we work with are scheduling way down the road, so we’re trying to adjust to that and get a better feel for what we can pursue in both the near future and a year or two from now.” They recently hired a sales person to help them improve this process—one of many new positions, from machine operators to material handlers, they’ve added to keep pace with the company’s growth.
What goes around …
The workforce at Indiana Fabric Solutions, which has grown from fewer than 10 employees to nearly 50, is a key reason for their success. “We wouldn’t have the product quality we do without the quality of our people,” Angie notes, a testament to the adage that employees who are taken care of take care of the business. “We want to treat them the way we want to be treated—like a family.”
In this spirit, the company hosts events like movie nights and holiday parties for employees and their families. “It’s important to spend time on things like this,” Angie says. “We couldn’t have the success we do without them, and we want to make sure they know they’re appreciated, whether that means celebrating the end of a big project with doughnuts or taking the time to get to know them on a personal level.”
But beyond the conversations, random acts of recognition and even the paychecks, what Angie finds most meaningful about the company’s success is the ability to contribute to her community as a stable source of employment. “This is where we all grew up, so to be able to have a business right in the middle of town and offer these jobs is such a good feeling,” she says. As proponents of second chances, Angie and Patty make an effort to extend opportunities to people whose past mistakes have prevented them from gaining employment elsewhere. “No one is perfect. To stand side-by-side with someone as they leave bad habits behind and make something of themselves by taking an opportunity and running with it is so valuable.”
Another outreach: a partnership with a local women’s shelter to provide work opportunities for residents. Lack of industry experience is not an issue, as candidates who have never sewn at all are usually quicker studies during training. “Sometimes people bring in tendencies that worked for them on a home machine but don’t connect with the sewing we do here,” Angie says.
Supervisors provide attentive, hands-on training before new employees are assigned work on any projects. And when they reach that point, employees are grouped together by task so they can help answer each other’s questions. “It’s intimidating to start something new, so having someone next to you that you can learn from, but is still at your level, is helpful,” she says. “We give them plenty of time to become comfortable and gain confidence in their sewing abilities.”
Partners in planning
Practicing what they preach, Angie and Patty are not afraid to ask for help. “The answer is always ‘no’ if you don’t ask; that’s my mantra for life,” says Angie. Three types of community partnerships have proved especially beneficial:
- The Lawrence County Economic Growth Council, a local nonprofit that supports business growth in areas such as workforce solutions and technical assistance, has helped them discover more options available to further their expansion plans.
- The Bedford Urban Enterprise Association has helped them incorporate cost deductions based on their location in an urban enterprise zone.
- They’ve connected with local utility companies, such as Duke Energy, to learn more about energy efficiency programs.
“We want to make sure we are doing our part to be more conscious of our impact and making good choices—not just easy ones,” Angie says. “We’re all in this together, and are not just building a company, but making a community better.”
Holly Eamon is a business writer and editor based in Minneapolis, Minn.
SIDEBAR: Certified for growth
After a nine-month process, Indiana Fabric Solutions owners Patty and Angie McCullough received women’s business enterprise (WBE) certification from the state of Indiana. To qualify, firms must be 51 percent owned by women who are U.S. citizens, possess expertise in the field and control the business enterprise. The certification allows Indiana Fabric Solutions access to minority business enterprise and WBE subcontracting opportunities on state contracts in Indiana; to be notified about state business, training and networking opportunities; and to appear in a directory of certified firms. To learn more, visit www.in.gov/idoa/mwbe or www.mbda.gov.